Private Investigators: Licensing and Legal Issues in the US
The role of a private investigator, essentially, is to obtain information. This may be used towards many different purposes, from tracking down cyber criminals to resolving personal matters for private clients. Thus, private investigator may be employed many many different individuals organizations for a variety of purposes. For example, there are general investigators, legal investigators, corporate investigators, insurance investigators, computer forensic investigators, domestic investigators, and missing persons investigators. Though they are not differentiated in the state exam, it is important to know which type of investigator one would like to be before applying. Private investigator operations may also include bodyguard services, loss prevention services, or escort services. In many states, private investigators are required to obtain a license before pursuing business. This may include paying an application fee, submitting fingerprint cards, and completing a state exam.
Licenses to become a private investigator can only be obtained after meeting a few basic requirements. These vary by state but some include being over 18 years old, being an American citizen, having employment from or an employment offer from a properly licensed private investigator firm, and being free of any criminal convictions related to the duties to be performed as a private investigator. There are additional requirements to be met if one would like to open their own private investigator firm. This may include proof of financial guarantee, proof of experience, and being fingerprinted. An applicant may also be required to undergo a minimum of four hours of private investigator training.
Private Investigator Licenses
There are several types of private investigator licenses. In the state of Washington, four different kinds are offered:
● Private Investigator Agency: Private investigator agencies are firms or businesses that may be led by one or multiple private investigators. They are registered as a separate corporate entity and operate as a business.
● Unarmed private investigator: Unarmed private investigators do not operate usually with a firearm on them. They can work for an agency or privately, but are not authorized to carry a firearm at any time.
● Armed Private Investigator: Armed private investigators are authorized to carry a firearm, but must use them within the limits of the law. They may also work for an agency or privately, and in application, there will be stricter requirements.
● Trainer: Trainers train prospective private investigators on how to be a private investigator, which may include training and preparation for the state exam.
State exams for private investigator licenses are made to ensure that private investigators will obey the law, and be knowledgeable as to how a private investigator should operate in relation to the government and private individuals. There are some resources to help applicants become more informed on the subject, including the International Association of Security and Investigative Regulators (IASIR) that can provide information about state and local licensing requirements, and the Council on Leisure, Enforcement, and Regulation (CLEAR), an international organization of professional and occupational professionals dedicated to helping with issues of licensing and regulation.
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